Monday, July 29, 2019

“The Great Hack” Faces Up To Ethics and Technology in a Gripping Netflix Doc

By José Alberto Hermosillo
The Great Hack. The poster is courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Extraordinary and unnerving, the new Netflix original documentary “The Great Hack” is an exposé on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the manipulation of information that polarized voters through Facebook, and the misuse of data to undermine our democracy.  

The dream of a connected world became a nightmare when foreign organizations manoeuvered the Brexit referendum in England and the 2016 elections in the United States, Brazil, and Myanmar. Those inconceivable victories left everyone astonished and powerless.
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Facebook became the digital gangster of our time. When Americans learned the social network made millions selling their data to Cambridge Analytica, they stopped using Facebook for good.

Companies like Cambridge Analytica developed sophisticated campaign ads. Targetting consumer preferences accordingly to their likes, previous buys, web searches, credit card swipes, and locations - all connected in real-time.

Digital traces of yourself became an asset tradable in the stock market. We, the people, were converted into a valuable commodity.
The Great Hack screening. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
Trading data developed into a trillion-dollar industry. Today, data surpasses oil value. Scary? Not quite yet. Congress must act to shield elections, maintain the country’s integrity, democracy, and national sovereignty.

“The Great Hack” openly inquires: who is feeding us with fear?

The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Searching for the truth, Academy Award nominees Karim Amer and Jehame Noujaim ("The Square"), through their investigation, discovered who was lying under oath - by juxtaposing the Facebook participation with Cambridge Analytica, and Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress.
Jehame Noujaim, Karim Amer, directors of The Great Hack. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
Amer and Noujaim's extraordinary documentary focuses on three whistle-blowers: David Carroll, a professor who was able to determine how the British company acquired the user's information and proceeded to sue Cambridge Analytica in London. This lawsuit launched the popular hashtag campaign #ownyourdata.
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Brittany Kaiser is another crucial witness in the case. Kaiser was an insider who got caught in the middle of all that information madness. Kaiser let people know what Cambridge Analytica was doing under the table. Before that, she served as a connection between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to get Hillary's emails. The scandal impacted millions of American voters. Kaiser emphatically remarked in the film: “Data is the most valuable asset on earth.”
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
British journalist Carole Cadwalladr is another critical player who uncovered the information warfare used by Cambridge Analytica and its alliance with Facebook. But more than a “Ted Talk,” viewers need to see the other side of the story.
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
The filmmakers of “The Great Hack” try to take a global approach but avoid the presidential elections of Poland, Germany, and Mexico, countries where the problem had more ramifications and players. The first two countries contend with a growing extreme right, while the third has an equally riskily radical left. 

The Great Hack does not explain how France stopped the foreign intervention weeks before its election -  something the US has not been able to accomplished years after its contentious 2016 decision.

Other crucial and political documentaries worth watching are the Palme d'Or winner “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the Oscar® nominee “The War Room,”  “Citizenfour,” and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.”
Jehame Noujaim, Karim Amer, directors of The Great Hack. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
“The Great Hack,” accurately and effectively, communicates with “new information” regarding privacy, which can contrast or reinforce the viewer's fresh memories.

The paranoia of having Big Brother watching us began in the 1960s and 1970s when experts studied the subliminal messages contained in TV ads. Nowadays, people are revealing so much information about themselves online that they become predictable enough for companies to influence people's decisions.

The Great Hack creates awareness of how we can use social media responsibly and how we can continue working for a place where technology and ethics can coexist harmoniously. It is a challenge we must be ready to take.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

“Honeyland” The Last Beekeeper of North Macedonia

By José Alberto Hermosillo
Honeyland poster courtesy of Neon
“Honeyland” is one of the most outstanding achievements in filmmaking this year. The luminous documentary is a realistic portrait of the asperous conditions of rural living in North Macedonia no one can ignore. Remarkable, environmentally opportune, unmissable.

“Honeyland” chronicles the life of a determined provincial woman who defies other humans and nature stoically to save the bees.

Up in the mountains of North Macedonia, we follow Hatidze’s journey, a forgotten native, bearer of an ancient secret about bees, where they are, and how to take care of them. 

As she collects half of the honey, she shares the other half with the bees. And above all, she knows what the bees need to keep them alive thru the seasons.
Honeyland photo courtesy of Neon
Hatidze also takes care of her 85-year-old mother. Their connection is symbiotic, and their codependency profound. They are emotionally supportive of each other.

In their humble hut, the mother hopes for her middle-age daughter to marry a suitable prospect. Something more than impossible for being the only two living souls up in the mountains of the Balkans peninsula.  

We see her walking miles to the city happily. At the market, she interacts with the vendors, mostly Albanians, and Bosnians, who let her know how much money she can get for her honey. With that money, she can buy other products, like the bananas her mother enjoys very much.
Honeyland photo courtesy of Neon
When she returns, new neighbors arrived. A family of Turkish nomads in their mobile-home, cattle, and eight children. All survivors, hungry and ready to take over. That also includes the bee business and merchandising the honey for a higher price.
Honeyland photo courtesy of Neon
“Honeyland” is entreating and exciting. The humor is center in the free-spirited children pushing their luck interacting with the animals.
 
A few weeks pass by when greed alters the natural balance. Without any environmental actions, biblical repercussions take place in this tiny part of the wealthiest continent, Europe. 
Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, filmmakers of Honeyland.
Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA
©2019
The talented filmmakers Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska worked three years shooting this endearing documentary on a rural location where filming conditions were challenging.

Their small crew had no shelter and no showers; they were camping in tents. For that reason, they only shoot four to five consecutive days a week, then go back to civilization to recharge batteries. 

They took one full year to edit more than 400 hours of footage and be able to follow three storylines harmoniously: the beekeeper, the restless family, and the land. 
Honeyland photo courtesy of Neon
The editing runs flawlessly and entertaining. The linear structure is so good that it is hard to distinguish if we were watching a documentary or a narrative story. 

In the making of this film, the children helped to convince the adults to participate in the documentary. In the beginning, it was difficult for the filmmakers to approach the family. They were a fundamental part of the story.

Their eco-friendly documentary delivers a compelling message – if we use all the natural resources at once, we will have nothing left to continue living. We must conserve some supplies for the future. Users and providers must keep balance on earth, or everything will be lost.
Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, filmmakers of HoneyLand.
Photo José A. Hermosillo Festival in LA
©2019
The American environmentalist documentary “The Biggest Little Farm” has a much more sophisticated approach to how climate change affects and the way we produce and consume natural products.

Also, the Swedish documentary “More than Honey” states: “If the bees disappear, humans will follow within three years.” The epic European production takes a global approach and an ambitious solution, while the Macedonian work focuses in a microcosm, their land, and how the last remaining beekeeper fights for the bee’s preservation.
Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, filmmakers of Honeyland.
Photo José Alberto Hermosillo Festival in LA
©2019
Coincidentally, the documentary juxtaposes parallel universes: Hatidze and her mother in their hut can compare with the bees in their hive. The mother as the queen who never leaves the house, with the bees in their hierarchical organization.

For Hatidze, dyeing her hair is a symbol of beauty, aspiring to be someone beautiful even in the hills without knowing that the bloom is inside her noble heart. 

According to the filmmakers, “This story has no villains, only victims of consumerism. The inhabitants have to be more persistent and immune to the capitalist system that devours everything.

For many, “Honeyland” is considered a Masterpiece; it won more than eleven awards in festivals around the world, including this year's Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography at the World Cinema Docs in Sundance. Additionally, the film won the Special Jury Prize for Impact & Change at Sundance as well. It won Best Documentary at Montclair Film Festival, and Best Documentary at Docs Barcelona - Spain. 

I am hoping to have the filmmakers Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska back in Los Angeles for the Award Season because “Honeyland” is a documentary worth a Golden Globe, Oscar, and Spirit Award nomination.
Hatidze in Honeyland photo courtesy of Neon
The dream of Hatidze, the beekeeper, came true when she was able to tell her unbelievable story so generously in the film, creating an environmental conscience, transmitting so vividly her love for the bees - making the audience part of her fascinating universe named “Honeyland.”

Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, filmmakers of Honeyland. 
Film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Photo: Gabriel Romero, Festival in LA ©2019

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Monday, July 8, 2019

“The Art of Self-Defense” – Can Karate Cure Loneliness in a Hyper-masculine World?

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“The Art of Self-Defense” is a hilarious dark comedy you don’t want to miss, quirky. One of the best independent films of the year! The performances of Jessie Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Poots are remarkable!

Not so long ago, Meryl Streep said, there is no art in football and Mixed Martial-Arts. Many around the world won’t agree - not even Casey (Jessie Eisenberg), who, after a random violent attack, enrolls in karate lessons.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
By submerging himself in this shadowy world of Martial-Arts, Casey will try to gain self-confidence, strength, and a more manly personality.

At the dojo, he gets welcomed by Anna (Imogen Poots). She is a confident young but alienated karate instructor. For being a woman, she is relegated to teach children in the mornings, instead of participating in the evening competitions against men. Those combats could get her closer to her ultimate goal, a well-earned black belt.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
The grandmaster is Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). His strange and magnetic personality makes him look that he wants to be in control all the time. His captivating charm lures Casey into his business, for a mind and body training.

When actor Alessandro Nivola read Riley Sterns’ extraordinary script, he thought it was original, intricate, and somehow controversial, critical ingredients for an independent film to succeed. In the screenplay, he saw the importance to emphasize the dialogues with personal tones.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
Nivola was worried about learning karate in four days rather than incorporating complicated long sentences into his part. During the shooting, Nivola took a deep breath, learned his lines, and delivered them the best he could. Nivola is terrific playing a low-key psycho:

“Kick with your fist, punch with your feet.”
“Karate is a way of communicating.”
“Never hold back; it makes you weak.”

Sensei is a master in the art of manipulation. He articulates a sinister plan to keep up with his image and to thrive business into his martial arts school.
Alessandro Nivola. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo
Alessandro Nivola undertones his character to make it more realistic. By controlling his kingdom and minions, Sensei enjoys playing God with subtle cruelty – similar to Ed Harris in “The Truman Show” (1998). A performance that earned Harris a Best Supporting Actor nomination for an Oscar that year.
The Art of Self-Defense - Arclight display. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
In “The Art of Self-Defense,” director Riley Stearns explores “male loneliness” accurately and makes his actors move up to the next level. Christian Bale in “The Machinist accomplished similar interpretation and Jack Plotnick in “Wrong” by Quentin Dupieux.
The Art of Self-Defense - Arclight display. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
Jessie Eisenberg performing this lonesome character is insightful. His impotence and frustrations are evident in every action. His passive/aggressive personality grows bigger until he becomes the person he means to be.

Jessie Eisenberg in "The Art of Self-Defense" is not a "Rocky," but he can pull out one hell of a show.

The secret in this movie is to discover how the behavior of an Almighty and powerful character affects everyone, and how the rest of the group could eventually counterattack. 

In a cruel world, and we must make the best of it. After you see “The Art of Self-Defense,” you may think twice about signing up for karate lessons.  

Alessandro Nivola, actor. Film critic José Alberto  Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
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